The Big Questions

Life, death and free will.

Tell Me I am Beautiful...and Smart!

Your partner liking your body can help - or hurt - your relationship


 

For some reason, as I was figuring out how to start this blog entry, I could not get the TV show Saved by the Bell out of my head. There is one episode where Jessica Spano laments that she—well more specifically the cheerleading squad she was a part of—shouldn't be appreciated for their looks, but because their minds are strong. Spano also laments quite frequently throughout the show that her boyfriend doesn't fully value women's minds.

Poorly timed references to tv shows we all cringe at now (but loved before) aside, there is a considerable amount of research suggesting that people are born with a sense that the mind and body are distinct, with the mind being non-physical. Thus, a partner could be attracted to your mind, or your body or both. 

Common sense might suggest that a relationship would be more satisfying if you feel that your partnr values you body, relative to believing he or she does not. But that isn't necessarily the case.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Researchers (headed by Andrea Meltzer, Southern Methodist University) conducted a study to test to what extent feeling valued for your body influenced relationship satisfaction. 

They found that for women feeling that your partner values your body increased relationship satisfaction if (a) they felt their partner was committed to them and (b) if they felt their partner also valued their mind. However, if the female participants did not feel that their partner was committed, or felt that their partner only valued their body, they were actually less satisfied when having their body valued.

Put differently, women were happier with the relationship when they thought their partner did not value their body, if there was no commitment from their partner, or if their mind was also not being valued by the partner. That is pretty interesting, because it suggests that being evaluated favorably on your appearance can have positive or negative consequences, even within intimate relationships.

The only difference for men was that commitment didn't matter. If their partner valued their body, this was a good thing if they also valued their mind/personality, but not otherwise. But, if they felt they were valued for their personality, then being valued for their body as well increased satisfaction whether or not they felt a sense of commitment from that partner.

Men and women are happier when they are valued for their personality AND their physical appearance when in committed relationships. But being valued for appearance makes women and men less satisfied when they do not also feel valued for who they are.

Nathan Heflick completed his Ph.D. in social psychology at The University of South Florida.

more...

Subscribe to The Big Questions

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?